Scandalous for it's time, "The Outlaw" directed by Howard Hughes, is the story of Billy the Kid, Doc Holiday, and Pat Garrett. The plot is thin at best, but we are introduced to a 22 year old Jane Russell which makes the film almost worthwhile.
April 2, 2013
The Bra That Hughes Built
Jack Buetel as Billy the Kid
Jane Russell as Rio McDonald
Thomas Mitchell as Pat Garrett
Walter Huston as Doc Holliday
Mimi Aguglia as Guadalupe
Joe Sawyer as Charley
Gene Rizzi as Stranger who tries to trick Billy
Dickie Jones as Boy (uncredited)
Bobby Callahan as Boy (uncredited)
"'1943’s most exciting new screen star,' read one line on the poster of Howard Hughes’ western The Outlaw. But it is unlikely at the time that anyone took much notice of that or any other line on the advert – apart from the notoriously long one between actress Jane Russell’s breasts.
"The controversy surrounding the film and its advertising campaign was to become a watershed moment for changing attitudes towards censorship in Hollywood. Briefly released for one week in 1943, The Outlaw was rapidly withdrawn from cinemas when the ‘Hays Office’, the censorship authority wing of The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, ruled that the film had broken too many of the decency “codes” – despite the fact that Hughes had already cut 37 scenes from the film in which they felt Russell's breasts were overemphasized.
"Hughes himself had designed a special support bra for Russell’s character, Rio, a buxom beauty whom actors Walter Huston and Jack Buetel fight over in the movie. However, Russell later insisted that she did not wear the bra, and that the director never noticed. "
~Jane Russell: the poster controversy that made a star, The Telegraph, March 1, 2011
So, was Ms. Russell just bragging about her fascinating big naturals sans enhancement or was it all just hype and counter hype from one of movieland's finest PR departments? Who knows.
This film’s box office success was launched into afterburn primarily by Howard Hugh’s PR department with heavy concentration on Jane Russell’s ta-tas. Walter Huston and Thomas Mitchell carry this film and a lot of weight to carry it was, even without the supposed massive yet perky tonnage of 21 year-old Ms. Russell's mammaries -- structurally supported by a specially "engineered" bra, the brainchild of Hughes' aeronautical engineering department to make them look especially full, firm, and dangerously pointy.
The leading roles are played by two pretty, young novices, Jane Russell and Jack Beutel. Ms. Russell’s acting is atrocious as is Jack Beutel’s (a Farley Granger look-alike with no acting ability). Russell plays a pouty brat triangulating adult love in outlaw country, and Beutel can barely hit his marks as a flat, detached Billy the kid, which you would think he could do because as an actor he is certainly flat and detached, but being something is one thing and portraying it on screen is another altogether. Corpses project more personality and emotional range. They both fail miserably in their close-ups. I can only guess how frustrating it was to direct Russell for her closeup when Beutel is about to leave her behind at the end of the film. Having forced to make her a star at any cost, including his reputation, the director was probably tearing his hair out. And it’s not surprising that Beutel was never heard of again in movies. It’s equally surprising that Russell was.
Russell only survived in the industry because she could also sing and dance… a little, and those famous casabas. Later starring with the beautiful comic genius Marilyn Monroe in Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend helped her career move along. Like Ann Margaret, she eventually picked up a little acting ability over the years. (Two amazing survivors, I’ll give them credit for that.) I like survivors, especially in an industry as tough as this one, and eventually I learned to like Ms. Russell. May she rest in peace. This was her film debut.
This film provides an interesting twist to the Billy the Kid story, but just to set you straight, there is a huge amount of contemporary documentation that Doc Holliday died in a Colorado sanitarium of tuberculosis exacerbated by inhaling cigar smoke and prolonged heavy drinking. Also I don’t believe Garret and Holliday ever actually met: Garrett and Billy were involved as gunmen in the Lincoln County, NM land and cattle war, whereas Holliday busied himself at the poker tables in cattle railheads and mining towns in Colorado, Kansas and Arizona – often meeting up with the Earp brothers and other professional gamblers. However, since the night that Pat Garrett shot and killed Billy in New Mexico, there have been disputes as to who was actually buried in his grave and many people have claimed to be William Bonney in their old age.
But who in their right mind looks to Hollywood for historic accuracy? It’s a decent story, has some excellent location shots of Red Rock Canyon, CA the areas around Socorro, NM., Tuba City and Yuma, Arizona. Huston is always good to watch but I think most guys today would find Ms. Russell’s breasts disappointing.
I often wonder how such an accomplished veteran actor as Walter Huston handled working with such incredibly incompetent young newbie headliners who were so obviously hired solely for their bodies and faces. I sincerely hope he was paid well as he certainly earned his money on this job.
Very good print and sound, good story, and Mitchell and Huston did a fine job as Garret and Holliday respectively. Because of the nationwide controversy surrounding this film I consider it a historic cultural document as well. 4 Stars.
Some trivia from IMDB:
Jane Russell got the role after a nationwide search by Howard Hughes for a busty actress.
This was Ben Johnson's film debut.
The first American film that defied the "Production Code" of the Hays Office, which dictated what could and could not be shown on screen.
Howard Hawks started as director but quit after 2 weeks, ostensibly to direct Sergeant York. But Howard Hughes, who had the dailies flown to Los Angeles daily, had complained that Hawks was not spending enough time filming, which probably precipitated his leaving. Hughes took over as director in December 1940 and announced all scenes would be re-shot by Gregg Toland, who replaced the original cinematographer, Lucien Ballard. However, screenwriter Jules Furthman filled in for Hughes as director on 31 December 1940 and often thereafter.
Although the film was finished and copyrighted in February 1941, it was not shown theatrically for another 2 years, mostly because of censorship problems which required cuts and revisions. By May 1941, the PCA agreed to approve the film, but Howard Hughes found that many state censor boards wanted a lot more cuts that he was not willing to make, so he shelved the film until 5 February 1943, when it was finally shown theatrically in San Francisco in the 115-minute version that we essentially see today. It caused quite a sensation, especially since Jane Russell and Jack Buetel performed a 20-minute scene that was cut from the film after each showing. More hassles about its possible release in New York caused Hughes to shelve the picture once again.
Howard Hawks wanted Albert R. Broccoli to work as an assistant director on the film, but when Howard Hughes heard it he said: "I can't give a good friend a job; the studio will be very upset with me!" But Hawks replied: "I want Cubby!" (Albert R "Cubby" Broccoli, who later became famous for the 'James Bond' films).
In his book "Hollywood", Garson Kanin wrote that one day in New York, he and George S. Kaufman were walking down Broadway and counted five billboards with an alluring picture of Jane Russell advertising this film, prompting Kaufman to remark: "They ought to call it 'A Sale of Two Titties'".
This film seriously hampered the career of co star Jack Buetel. As a result of his contractual arrangement with producer Howard Hughes, he did not appear in another film for 7 years. Though a regular on TV's Judge Roy Bean and quite a few other roles, he retired from films in 1961 at age 46.
Gee, it couldn't have had anything to do with his inability to act, could it?